News & Opinion

MPs call for regulation of tech giants following spread of Covid-19 misinformation

Reaction: Society of Editors urges caution to avoid rush towards “censorship” legislation

A group of MPs is calling on the government for immediate action and a new body to regulate the social media giants following their failure to stop the spread of misinformation around the coronavirus pandemic.

Julian Knight MP, chair of Parliament’s DCMS Committee, said: “Evidence that tech companies were able to benefit from the monetisation of false information and allowed others to do so is shocking. We need robust regulation to hold these companies to account.

“The coronavirus crisis has demonstrated that without due weight of the law, social media companies have no incentive to consider a duty of care to those who use their services.”

In reaction to the MPs calls, the Society of Editors (SoE) says the government should resist the urge to rush towards censorship of the internet in a bid to combat disinformation and fake news.

“It would be far better if the government took steps to support the role of the mainstream media in counteracting fake news rather than attempting Canute-like to hold back the tide of misinformation through threats and censorship,” commented the SoE’s executive director Ian Murray.

“There is a huge amount of work the government can do in tackling such online harms as threats to children, abusive behaviour, the promotion of self-harm and other areas where direct action could be taken. No one doubts there is misinformation and fake news on the web, but any attempt to tackle it is fraught with the dangers posed by censorship.

“Once it is decided that some opinions are not acceptable or true then inevitably someone or some body must be chosen to decide what is truth and what is not. In a world where opinions can change even at the highest level – the debate over the wearing of masks during the pandemic is an obvious example – this is an impossible task. No solution can be free from bias, prejudice of thought and political interference. It is a road fraught with peril, which is why the DCMS appear to have decided to concentrate on other areas of online harms where results can be achieved.”

Read the full story on Press Gazette.

And the Society of Editors full response

21/07/20

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